Apr 13 2009

Why Purchasing IT Must Have a Short-Term ROI

When tight budgets impact education technology, IT directors must re-strategize.

From the Editor

Rethinking IT & Rethinking ROI


Lee Copeland

Budget cuts. Staff reductions. Bond referendums. IT leaders in the nation’s school districts can’t catch a break. When it comes to new technology rollouts, IT administrators are finding that they need to shorten investment-return timetables in order to get funding and also showcase where and how technology can impact educational outcomes.

The state of California, which faces a $16 billion budget deficit this year, is particularly hard hit. Although the state has long been a leader in integrating technology into the teaching environment, the budget dollars to support that goal are now difficult to find. California’s Modesto City Schools — which cut more than $20 million from its budget for the current fiscal year and plans to shed another $10 million in the next — understands that every dollar spent is under scrutiny.

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But Modesto will make some technology investments when it opens a new high school next year. Stan Trevena, director of information and technology services at Modesto, is considering thin clients at the high school because they’re less expensive than traditional desktops and also more energy efficient. Thin clients will let his staff manage the computing infrastructure from a central data center, while enabling teachers to configure user settings and applications any way they want and preventing students from playing games during the school day.

“During this budget crisis, maintenance will be minimized to only mission-critical devices, replacements will be delayed unless hardware has failed (or is at risk of failing),” Trevena says. “Purchases to reduce costs or expenses must have a short ROI — less than three years — to be considered. Districts are starting to scrutinize testing, reporting and services and considering cuts where cuts are warranted.”

Luckily, Craig Nansen, district technology coordinator at Minot Public Schools in Minot, N.D., isn’t facing budget cuts. But he still needs to make the case for ROI.

“We look at [technology] as an investment in our teachers and students,” says Nansen. He looks at the costs to employ the average salaried teacher, plus benefits, and compares that with the cost of the technology tools, which will make that teacher more effective in the classroom.

“We are spending around 1 percent of the cost of that classroom over four years on technology,” Nansen explains. “So it isn’t hard to show a gain of more than 1 percent in productivity and student learning, and also cost savings in other areas.”

Steve Beatty, CIO of Rockwood School District in St. Louis County, Mo., also faced big budget cuts this year. Yet the IT department can continue with several tech projects because of a recent $8 million bond that voters approved to fund technology projects, including a new finance and human resources system, a new child nutrition system, a new library system and system storage.

Times are tough, but projects that demonstrate their value still have a chance.

Editor in Chief, leecop@cdw.com

Online Learning Brief

An update of the Sloan Consortium’s online-learning survey of K–12 administrators reports the following:

  • 75% of school districts had one or more students enrolled in a fully online or blended course.
  • 70% had one or more students enrolled in a fully online course.
  • 41% had one or more students enrolled in a blended course.
  • 66% of school districts with students enrolled in online or blended courses anticipate their online enrollments will grow.
  • The overall number of K–12 students engaged in online learning in 2007–2008 is estimated at 1,030,000. this represents a 47% increase since 2005–2006.